{5} Excerpt from Occult Paris Chapter 3 Meetings with Remarkable Men (Eliphas Levi)

Perhaps the transformation of activist Alphonse Louis Constant into the Hebracized version of his name, Elphas Levi can best be seen in a quotation from Levi’s unpublished manuscript of 1870 Les Partes de L’Avenir (The Doors to the Future). It shows the canny wisdom and objectivity released in him after meeting the Polish visionary mathematician, Jozef Maria Hoene-Wronski (1776-1853) in Paris in 1852:

Liberty Equality, Fraternity! Three words which seem to shine are in fact full of shadow! Three truths which in coming together, form a triple list. For they destroy one another. Liberty necessarily inequality, and equality is a leveling process that does not permit liberty, because the heads that rise higher than others must always be forced down to the mean. The attempt to establish equality and liberty together produce an interminable struggle that makes fraternity among men impossible.

What a tragedy this wisdom was not absorbed by the socialist and communist movements in time for the twentieth century – How much misery might have been spared the human race, then and now! Levi shows a better path for humanity. This path the companions of the Hierophany recognized. Levi insisted that faith would continue to be a necessity for human beings (emphasis is mine) [which is why Historians of Religions are so important]. Between the known and the unknown, even conventional science always requires faith, since we learn by leaps, and certainty requires experience. Religion provides faith experience provides science. He identified the highest Reason with God, distinguishing it like Fabre d’Oliver, from mere rationality and the ability to calculate. This aspect of Levi’s doctrines made acceptance of his esoteric insights easier or the strong Roman Catholic representation.

The Catholic Church of the late nineteenth century built much of its antiscientific stance on the tradition of miracles in the church, wrought by saints in imitation of Christ.  Levi showed a kind of transition doctrine that accepted the Catholicity of the miraculous while permitting an initiated understanding for adepts. So called miracles had explicable causes. Those familiar with the fullest science of these causes could manipulate them, even though results appeared as miraculous interventions into the expected, natural order. For the initiated, this demonstrated the unity of all religions. The uninitiated, however, would take such a realization as reason to discard his or her particular faith. The adept therefore refrain from revealing their innermost secrets to the general public. While this stance might be criticized for obscurantism or worse, it is simply generous good sense. The path to initiation open to all who sincerely seek it, according to their lights. If we could all make an atomic bomb out of a packet of corn flakes and a lump of sealing wax, it were better we were told of it. “This fish is not for everybody and most are content with that.

It is also a stance explaining perhaps why those seeking in Levi’s books actual guidelines to performing magic on a do-it-yourself basis are disappointed. Some have concluded that this was simply cover; Levi was a charlatan who couldn’t actually perform the miracles he attested as being possible in theory to adepts. If he was not an adept, he had no right to speak with authority on the subject. However, it is arguable that Levi was not trying to reestablish Renaissance or medieval magical practices, but was addressing a new, coming scientific era, attempting to form a rapprochement he believed was inevitable where science and occult doctrines would eventually work in harmony in the appropriate social atmosphere social atmosphere, that is to say, in the New Age of Holy spirits he believed would begin around the year 2000 when “Enoch” would become precursor of a messianic age. Traditionally associated with knowledge and science, Enoch announced the enslavement of the dark angels that had ruled the Earth.  (This is important). That is why Levi distinguished High Magic from mere or goetic magic. The training he was providing was predominantly training of the mind, a refinement of attitudes and plenitude of understanding. This would not come automatically and could not be simply acquired by rote. “Many are called but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

There is support for this view, not only in Levi’s writings, but also in testimonies of those who knew him. On 3 December 1861, founder member of the English Societies Rosicruciana in Anglia, Kenneth Mackenzie interviewed Levi in his apartment at 19 avenue de Maine, Paris, an event recorded in the journal the Rosicrucian and Red Cross in May, 1873. Levi showed the Englishman a prophecy attributed to Paraclesus. It predicted the rise of Napoleon, the downfall of the Papacy—that is its political power—the restitution of the kingdom of Italy, which took place in 1861, and the ultimate ascendancy of occult sciences as a means of restoring general harmony in society. The prevalence of this idea explains also the enthusiasm for Theosophy that appeared in the year Levi died (1875) the year self-styled “Logos of the Aeon” Edward Alexander Crowley was born.

Apart from philosophical wisdom, there were some essential guidelines left as part of Levi’s legacy for the progress of Magic after his death. (bullet points added to text)

 

  • Levi passed on the traditions of Trithemius, Paracelsis, and Henry Cornelius Agrippa, especially with regard to the idea of Man as a microcosm, a little universe, corresponding in his nature to the formation principles of the universe in extenso. The stars are differentiated in space but not in substance. The aim of the adept is the linking of the “above” with the “below,” and classic Hermetic-gnostic objective. There exist entities on planes other than the visual, animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds., though these latter worlds have correspondences in spiritual entities. The adept must form a complete model of these relationships through initiation. Communication with these proposed entities is traditionally effected by signs and talismans used with respect to the system of correspondences available. Levi struggled here with maimed, unsystematic tradition successors have since refined. [NOT]

 

  • Like Fabre d’Oliver, Levi regarded the Hebrew language as a fundamental voice of the creative spirit, a language of creation, though its full meaning was in no wise obvious but, again, required initiated understanding. The existing body of reflection on that understanding was of course Kabbalah, received tradition from adepts of old, Moses, it was believed, worked miracles by it that captivated the attention of the Egyptian Magi [­­­BUNK mixed with truth – bad bad bad].

 

  • Levi was particularly noteworthy for taking up a casual suggestion of Antoine Court de Gebelin (1725 – 1824) that while there were twenty-two tarot trumps, there were also twenty-two letters in Hebrew. Levi popularized the linkage as definitive, bringing into practical application further correspondences between the four tarot suits and four letters of the tetragrammaton (Yod-Hei-Vav-Hei: constituting God’s name), and the ten numbered cards of each suit with the ten Sephiroth, or emanations of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life; which first appeared during the middle ages. (DID NOT – emanations are a Christian fabrication, not from the original Tree. See Scholem Kabbalah p. ) Levi adapted the inherited system, adding an eleventh sephira, called Da’ath (Re: your page 92 – He did NOT originally add Da’at. This was a 12th century addition by a Jewish Kabbalist to balance out the dialectic between wisdom and intelligence – See Scholem Kabbalah p. ) understood as the Knowledge that is true Science, being a reflection and synthesis of the other Sephiroth. Levi’s advocacy of the tarot as a codified High Science opened the way for the tarot to be used not only as the familiar means of divination, but also as a path to inner exploration, constituting an essential wing of the high magic that could only be worked in a state of exalted or mystical consciousness. Levi therefore contributed to the development of a magical psychology of personal transcendence that continues to motivate and fascinate. (pp 91-92)

Levi’s claims that unspecified Rosicrucians and Marinists were in touch with the true tarot encouraged Gerard Encausse and his intimate friends to revitalize these traditions as revived orders of their own making in the light of the enthusiasm of their times.  Levi was therefore instrumental in the formation of the Occult Paris that succeeded him.

In chapter five of the Dogma and Ritual of High Magic, Levi adumbrated a principle that would form a cornerstone of magical practice. He probably derived his idea of the “Astra Light” or “Universal Agent” from Mesmer combined with seventeenth-century Rosicrucianist ideas of the penetration of stellar rays into organic fiber (such as dew), altering its occulted nature.  Corresponding to the “primordial light” of divine formation, its terrestrial counterpart is, according to Levi, the “terrestrial fluid, which we call the Great Magnetic agent…saturated with all kinds of images and reflections.” This means the Astral Light is a Plastic medium on which thoughts and images can be magically imprinted. The willful soul can affect it. It can dissolve it, coagulate it, project it, or withdraw it,: verbs taken from the grammar of alchemy. “It is the mirror of imagination and dreams.” Artistic interest in this conception was stirred. According to Levi, the Astral Light “reacts upon the nervous system and thus produces the movements of the body… It can take all forms evoked by thought, and, in the transitory coagulations of its radiant particles, appear to the eyes, it can even offer a sort to the touch.” What might it do to paint, musical notes, or the written word? Could a purely magical art be generated? Peladan thought it could, or it is by use of the imagination that the Astral Light could be manipulated. Here was a means to explore the hidden world of the symbol. Imagination reaches its highest pitch. The idea of magic as a technique of the imagination would inform the basis of magic in the British offshoot, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose first Isis-Urania Temple was founded in London, significantly, in 1888. Its leaders, like Mackenzie, were United Grand Lodge o England Freemasons and members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Angelia (founded in 1867)

Levi taught his readers that the Astral Light was in essence the physical soul of the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – whose subjection by a fifth agent, that is the Will, is symbolized in the five pointed star, the pentagram. The pentagram then becomes a glyph of power over the elemental spirits when the sign is employed with understanding, that is when the will is dedicated to the highest will. This is what is meant by the Magus “ruling the universe,” the above and below by his enlightened will. Thus, when it comes down to it, or we go up to it, Magic for Levi is power over self, the means of directing the will. For this to happen effectively, and to prevent the Magus from being driven off course, an essential discipline is required: balance and harmony (the essence of the 14th card in Major Arcanum) The Magus is dealing with the opposite currents that hold together the dynamic of the manifest cosmos. The ordinary or personal will, or “ego” as we may call it today, is subject to temptation this way and that by its limited vision of its requirements [or experiences] and the isolating logic immediate needs and wants. Thus, power over self is essential and that is the preliminary task of the magician in practice. We can see here the gropings toward what is effectively an attempt to produce a scientific religion or scientific interpretation of religion; a gnosis, through practice of a transcendental Art.

The balance between light and darkness, positive and negative, requires understanding of an important gnostic principle to which we have already alluded, since the opposite poles may also be characterized as masculine and feminine. Therefore, Levi presented his readers with a vital image, or symbol for the frontispiece to his Dogma and Ritual (1856). It is the symbol o Androgyny, of reconciliation of the opposites; a very appealing symbol to the Decadent imagination. Levi calls the image Baphamet according to the tradition that the Knights Templar respected an image the Catholic antiscience Church associated with the Devil. Au contraire says Levi the faithful Catholic adept who knows what the church has long forgotten or misunderstood or suppressed, Baphamet is the Key. For in this image, as he conceives it, is the symbol of mastery; the resolution of the opposites in a higher unity, pertaining to Man’s estate before the Fall into duality, manifestation and decay.

Gnosis is the religion o the Artist, and the Artist is simply Man doing what Man does best: being a joyful cocreator manifesting light in the dark universe. We may recall Pasqually’s view that mason was simply another word for Man. Hence, as Aleister Crowley will be inspired to write in 1904, synthesizing all this doctrine and dogma: “Every man and every woman is a star.”

Levi’s design for the frontispiece to the “Ritual” section of his two-part book on the High Magic has been used by the uninitiated as an image o the Christian Devil, not surprisingly, and films like The Devil Rides Out based on Dennis Wheatley’s black magic chillers, have promoted the view that figures with mixed human and goatish features represent the Evil One. Needless to say, this was not Levi’s intention though one does sense a little mischief or “shocking the bourgeois” that must have made the image the image enticing for the Satanist rebels of the Decadent movement. But closer inspection reveals it as a symbol based on the idea of the sphinx, a chimera: half animal, half human, meaning it as neither, but a form for a formless idea, like the cherubs that decorated the Ark, for representation of human beings were forbidden in Israelite worship lest they be thought of as images of God. Levi was, in my opinion, being provocative as well as profound.

Levi’s Book of Splendors, he asserts that images of this kind point to the pure ideas beyond formation. This resonates perectly with the Symbolist idea; the form of the symbol points to the formless beyond. Symbolist artists were fascinated by the image of the sphinx and depicted her in many ways, some threatening, some placid, some — like Desespoir de la Chimere—hysterical (see color plate 18). For Levi, his Baphomet was a composite symbol of initiation, not a thing.

We see a kind of goat with huge horns between whose horns is the flame of intelligence, the magic light of the universal balance discussed above. The flame is the soul elevated above matter. On the forehead of the goat (Pan = the ever-fertile All) is the pentagram, with the point at the top representing light and will. His two hands, one pointing up to the white moon of Chesed—Sefira of Mercy—the other pointing down in balance to the black moon of Geburah—sephira of Severity or Justice. Solve (separate) and Coagula (dissolve) active principles of alchemical transformation. Baphomet’s chest has both male and female breasts and male hair, below which is a carduceus in place of genitalia, or the caduceus harmonizes masculine and feminine in one, and is the symbol of Herme’s will. Baphomet’s wings express the “volatile,´ another alchemical concept, that which enables flight of one state to another. In short—to uninitiated eyes—a monster. To the initiate—a glyph or the assumption o Man over all his occulted faculties, able to wield the Astral Light at will, the power of the monster Man over himself by initiation. It is an image for a goal and is therefore progressive. By a persistent law of paradox, the beautiful appears at first monstrous, as the hag in mythology is revealed as the maiden. Truth does not come into the world naked, but clothed in types and images.

Androgyny was accepted as a formal ideal for many Symbolist artists, and Peladan regarded androgynous beings as somehow being above the downward tending, bestial aspects o sex, but one would like to know what Levi might have thought of the tendency to portray androgyny as something more effeminate and effete than strictly masculo-eminine. One suspects Levi migt have considered these images of “combined opposites” less o a synthesis and more of a mush of confused planes, since androgyny is an idea, a transcendence of opposites, not an alternative sex. Levi’s monstrous image was not intended to gratify aesthetic tastes!

Levi’s essential contribution to the Occult Paris of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was in effect to redefine Magic as an “occult science” enabling a process of transcendental self-perfecting, a means to connect oneself into a deeper, invisible universe by progressive initiation through symbols and signs. Levi’s Baphomet design encapsulated this in a manner both risque and fashionably provocative.

        
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